Anyone who has ever attended the Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret knows to expect a show that is over-the-top, spontaneous and immensely captivating.
According to Art-Reach ED John Orr, the performance is unlike anything it’s done before.
“We are very excited,” said Orr, whose organization promotes arts opportunities for individuals with disabilities. “We keep asking ourselves, ‘Is this actually going to happen?’ It is going to be amazing.”
The idea to create an accessible performance of the cabaret came from Art-Reach’s director of development and communications, Jenny Laden, who had previously worked with Dito Van Reigersberg, the actor behind Martha Graham Cracker. Because FringeArts was already an established partner of Art-Reach and presents quarterly shows of the cabaret, teaming up with them for this performance was a natural fit.
“We have a fruitful and growing partnership with Art-Reach, and our staff will be participating in a disability etiquette training before the show to better equip themselves for this type of performance,” said FringeArts Communications Director Hallie Martenson. “Martha is very off-the-cuff and creates an intimate connection with her audience, so I think the lessons from the disability etiquette training will filter into the performance.”
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“The social model of disability states that experiences and structures can be designed to maximize participation for everyone,” said Orr. “For example, a person who uses a wheelchair is no less mobile than a person who doesn’t use a wheelchair: It is having only stairs and not a ramp or elevator that creates a disadvantage for the person who uses a wheelchair.”
In addition to wheelchair-accessible seating, the cabaret will feature an American Sign Language interpreter, audio description of what Martha Graham Cracker does throughout the show and Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) captioning. CART differs from regular captioning in that it is text-only, and is thus best suited for live performances where a script does not exist.
Though there is only one showing of the accessible performance, both Orr and Martenson hope to do more shows like this in the future. Art-Reach, originally founded with the purpose of distributing free and reduced price arts tickets to low-income individuals, has recently shifted its focus to making more performances accessible to people of all abilities. Last month, its staff partnered with the Academy of Music to put on a sensory-friendly performance of “The Nutcracker.” Accommodations during the show included space for audience members to move around and talk, and areas to take breaks with trained staff.
“There are a lot of theaters that will do closed captioning for one or two performance during a show’s run, which really limits the choices that the people who need these services have,” said Martenson. “I think organizations should incorporate in into all of their shows — it doesn’t detract from the performance, and it creates a more welcome experience.”
These types of accommodations do not alter performances and are very easy to incorporate, added Orr.
“We’re going to use the Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret to set the bar for other arts organizations,” said Orr. “If we can pull this off, why can’t you?”-30-
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